The Motivation Lab: Episode 2, Muhammad Ali
Synopsis: Muhammad Ali (1942–2016) was a transcendent athlete, showman, humanitarian and Civil Rights icon. In this episode we explore the enormous risks taken by Ali in defense of his beliefs when he refused induction into the army and arrested in Houston, Texas on April 28, 1967. Although not cited in the video post, I’m sharing his famous quote, Impossible, below. And, if you like, share the material with others to give them a jolt of inspiration! Welcome to the Motivation Lab!
Below, I cite one of the most inspiring quotes from Muhammad Ali about the word Impossible. Because I have not heard it in a while, or perused Pinterest for (the likely) multitudes of examples, here you go. I find it incredibly motivating.
“Impossible is a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given, than explore the power they have to change it. Impossible isn’t a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is Temporary.
Impossible is nothing. “
Think about those words in the context of his decision to refuse induction into the army. Again, as mentioned in the video, I instinctively recoil at the idea of it. However, I have suspended my own judgment to wonder what I would do under the same circumstances. Would I be willing to give up my freedom for five years? Not only that: he was foregoing three of the prime years of his athletic life and earnings.
In 1967, Ali would have been twenty-five. He lost three years from 1967 to 1970, meaning his 25th, 26th, and 27th years of age. For a boxer, given the diminishing nature of your skills, stamina, strength and speed, that alone meant he gave up the prime and potentially peak of his athletic life for his beliefs.
Moreover, he had been stripped of his World Heavyweight Boxing crown and barred from boxing and earning his livelihood by the various state boxing commissions after he refused induction. Ali nearly became penniless, losing most of his earnings and resorted to giving speeches, largely on college campuses, to make a living.
In the beginning, his speeches were rough as he sought his footing in a new medium. Importantly, while he faced the loss of his freedom, he remained free on bail as his case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction on June 28, 1970, over three years after his arrest.
Admittedly, there swirls an enormous amount of historical significance surrounding Ali’s decision. Remember that Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. (he was given two magnificent names between Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali!) in Louisville Kentucky on January 17, 1942. We could do an entire Motivation Lab series on his biography, childhood experiences, family life, how he found boxing (a stolen bicycle was the impetus), his experiences on the 1960 Olympic team in Rome and his various fights, not the least of which include the epic battles against Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Foreman and Leon Spinks. And, we have not yet mentioned the obvious challenges associated with the disease he lived the remainder of his life with after his diagnosis in 1984 at age 42: Parkinson's.
Amazingly, all that background also includes how he came to change his name in the first place! I will not go into the detail it deserves here. However, his is a fascinating story, and at the bottom, I’m sharing links to various sources of further information if you are interested, including a fantastic biography by Jonathan Eig, published in 2017.
The framework for the discussion in Episode 2 comes in levels.
Level 1 Question: What values do you hold at work (or even school perhaps if appropriate) and are reflected in how you conduct your job?
Level 2: Have you ever risked something (your reputation, good relations) to defend those beliefs in a work setting?
Level 3: What values & beliefs do you hold so dear, you might be willing to give up your very livelihood to defend them?
The purpose of the Motivation Lab lies in telling inspiring stories which provoke self-reflection either individually or in a group setting. The questions provide a framework for discussion. My hope is that it provides an opportunity to build deeper awareness both personally and professionally and can be used to promote team bonding and understanding.
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Here are some of the promised links to related sources of material.
An excellent article by Andrew Wolfson in the Louisville (KY) Courier Journal, telling the story about Ali’s time spent away from boxing: 1967 to 1970.
If you want a condensed version of his bio you can find it here courtesy of biography.com.
Boxing is a brutal sport, not for everyone. But, if you are a fan or a nascent fan and you want to peruse some history on arguably one of the greatest fights ever , in fact dubbed “The Fight of the Century”— Frazier/Ali in 1971, check this one out.